Choosing the right Broadway show can make or break a trip to the Big Apple.
If you are planning a short trip to New York City, you might be looking for the best shows on Broadway. But if you don't make it to the city that often, maybe you are not comfortable making those arrangements. We've taken a look at the best live theater has to offer in an attempt to make that process a little bit easier.
Broadway has long been associated with the pinnacle of production and performance. It still rightfully holds that title with some of the greatest plays in the world on permanent rotation. You've probably heard about blockbuster hits like "Hamilton," with ridiculous waiting lists for tickets. We've taken a look at some of the other great gems for those with more attainable goals. If you are planning a trip to New York City soon, keep in mind our picks of the best shows on Broadway.
It doesn't matter if you're looking for a musical, a comedy, a drama -- or all three. You can find what you're looking for on Broadway.
Choosing among the best shows on Broadway is a serious task. There are adaptations from books, film and television. Many classic productions are now in revivals with superstars in leading roles. And then there are the instant hits. New shows with a fresh energy can make you feel like an insider ahead of the curve. Or maybe you are looking for something completely out of the mainstream. No matter your tastes, Broadway continues its tradition of offering first rate entertainment for anybody.
A brief history of Broadway
For most people, at least in America, Broadway is immediately associated with professional live theater. But you might not know the technicalities that set these performances apart from other great plays. Many incredible off Broadway productions, after all, are just around the corner. Why don't they receive the same distinction?
To be considered a Broadway play, it has to be performed in one of 40 specific theaters. Each is located in Manhattan's Theater District and all have at least 500 seats. A visit to Broadway is now among the tourist activities most closely associated with a trip to New York.
Why is Broadway so popular?
Well, it dates back to the 18th century when the area of the Theater District saw its first activity. Encouraged by local politicians decades later, the number of theaters began to grow. With the advent of electricity, the performances became better and iconic lighted advertisements went up.
The reputation continued to grow to its current stature as the very pinnacle of live theatrical performance. As of May 2016, the previous year marked an all time high in total ticket sales. With more than 13.3 million admissions, Broadway plays took in $1.373 billion in ticket sales.
The best shows on Broadway for your next Big Apple getaway:
We recommend having a quick chat with everyone in your group before buying tickets. With so much variety among the best shows on Broadway, you'll want to please the whole party. Once you have a direction in mind, we've selected a few of our favorites.
1. The Book of Mormon
Few Broadway plays have created the splash of "The Book of Mormon" in such a short period of time. The show has won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical. But that is not the only reason this ensemble production has earned so much attention. You might already know that this is a playful, comedic musical. It was created and written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
You probably know their work from such irreverent comedies as the Comedy Central cartoon series "South Park." They have also found success on the big screen with hits like "Team America: World Police." But they were not satisfied. After tackling multiple religions -- including Mormonism -- in various other venues, Parker and Stone tackled Broadway. They also have plenty of experience with musical numbers, but this was a project on a new scale.
What they created has gone on to become known as one of the theater's all time funniest shows. It ranks with iconic shows like "The Producers" for keeping audiences in stitches. Bear in mind, like other comedies from this pair, the comedy is irreverent. If you might be offended, perhaps it would be best to do a little more research. But basically, you can expect to see a new take on the classic fish out of water tale. The musical's plot hinges on the misadventures of Mormon missionaries stationed in Uganda.
2. Hello, Dolly!
From a relatively new instant classic to one of Broadway's most enduring hits, we move to "Hello, Dolly!" Another comedy, this show was revived in recent years and continues to entertain yet another generation. We have seen some big stars take the lead of this show in the past. And this iteration, an adaptation by Michael Steward and Jerry Herman, is no exception. You can see Bernadette Peters or Bette Midler take the stage on a given night. These talented women take their turns as Dolly Levi, the iconic protagonist of this highly entertaining show.
"Hello, Dolly!" traces its roots back to 1964 and tells the story of Dolly Levi. The character is set in the New York of the late 1800s. She is a matchmaker and leads a brilliant supporting cast. Transport yourself back in time as you visit the Big Apple. While you're there, enjoy all of the modern features New York City has to offer. But a stop at the Shubert Theater will serve as a trip back in time.
Watch the brilliant acting, catchy melodies and period costumes in this elaborate production. Along the way, share some uproarious laughs and thunderous applause for the masterful performance. NPR's David Richardson called it the "best show on Broadway." And he is not alone. We absolutely believe this classic gem belongs on any list of the best shows on Broadway.
3. Springsteen on Broadway
This limited run Broadway residency is for two groups of people: Springsteen fans and those who aren't Springsteen fans yet. The rock legend gives his incredible career a new twist in this intimate engagement. "The Boss" takes the stage for "Springsteen on Broadway" in a one man retrospective. Due to continued demand, the production continues to be extended. It is now set to be on Broadway at Jujamcyn's Walter Kerr Theatre until the end of the year.
These shows are regularly sold out. So make plans if you want to catch any of the 81 performances added in the latest extension. It started in 2017 with an initial eight week run. That led to massive buzz surrounding his unique performance. Dressed all in black, he takes the stage alone, singing what amounts to his musical autobiography.
Billboard is one of the many venerable outlets to laud Springsteen's effort on the stage. The magazine called it "one of the most fascinating, invigorating and emotionally nuanced entries in his creative catalog." Further cementing its position among the best shows on Broadway, he recently received a special Tony Award. Billy Joel presented the award. At the time, he called the show "a once in a lifetime theater going experience." Bill Joel added that "Springsteen on Broadway" allows "fans an intimate look at a music idol."
Variety said Springsteen was able to scale down his "arena sized body language" to the new venue. "He's figured out how to be gigantic in a small place," the magazine wrote.
4. The Band's Visit
If you are in the mood for something that will leave a lasting impression, consider "The Band's Visit." This is a touching musical surrounding the events of two individuals who find themselves together. One is an Egyptian bandleader, the other an Israeli cafe owner. The manner in which composers David Yazbek and Itamar Moses tell their story is utterly engaging. Director David Cromer brings their vision to life brilliantly on Broadway after a previous run at a different theater.
You probably recognize Tony Shalhoub from his roles in TV classics including "Monk" and "Wings." He completely owns his role as the leader of a band stuck in a desolate town in the middle of the desert. There, he meets a cafe owner portrayed by Katrina Lenk.
The new show has already won 10 Tony Awards. Among them is the coveted award for Best Broadway Show. On that fact alone, it would seem the show deserves a spot on our list of best shows on Broadway. And indeed it does. But even without the critical acclaim, this tender tale of a fleeting encounter is elegant and relatable. The brilliant performances and flawless directing, however, propel the story into a different stratum. Ben Brantley of the New York Times said the show signaled "Breaking news" for the status quo on Broadway.
"It is time to fall in love again!" he wrote. "One of the most ravishing musicals you will ever be seduced by. It is called 'The Band's Visit." A romantic night on the town might just be perfected with tickets to this touching production.
5. Come From Away
This unique play is a surprising departure from the standard Broadway fare. It tells one of the many unknown stories of 9/11. New York City bore the brunt of that national tragedy. Its scars are forever enshrined at the former World Trade Center. Of course, we recommend a respectful visit to that solemn site during any trip to the city. But "Come From Away" takes its audience to Newfoundland for a story that rippled from that 2001 attack.
During the wake of the hijacking, flights were grounded around the world. That included a small town called Gander, as told in this heartwarming and engaging production. Tony nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote an utterly moving and human story. The most incredible part is, it is all based on true events. Thousands of passengers of all cultures and creeds were grounded at the same time in this small town. The story covers obvious concerns of clashes in the wake of one of the world's deadliest attacks. Instead, these people came together for a story of compassion you must see to fully appreciate.
Christopher Ashley directs this incredible display of actor versatility. A dozen actors take on multiple roles to complete a full cast of characters. That in itself is an powerful approach to theater and might earn it a spot among the best shows on Broadway. But it is the touching and ultimately uplifting story that really drives home the appeal of this story. A Daily Beast review called it "a celebration of the best of humankind."
6. The Iceman Cometh
Maybe you have already seen this classic play. "The Iceman Cometh" is a classic for a reason, after all. But if you haven't seen the current run with a powerful performance by Denzel Washington, you should. The story from Eugene O'Neill might be familiar. Chronicling the happenings of a New York saloon more than a century ago, the characters are gripping. And Denzel Washington heads an impressive cast bringing those distinct personalities to life.
Five time Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe has orchestrated the entire production. His vision serves to keep your attention locked on the interactions. You will be enamored with Denzel Washington's portrayal of Hickey. He lends his inimitable charm to a script that does not provide much unadulterated optimism. Nonetheless, you will walk out of this performance with a nagging sense of hope.
Harry Hope's bar is the site of many ups and downs -- but mostly downs. There is some levity, particularly in the play's second act. But there is a lot of drama. These are downtrodden characters, cast expertly and performed with precision. It is a great take on a classic play, possibly the best in the shows decades-long history.
7. Mean Girls
If you loved the 2004 film, you probably already know about this new production. It was adapted by Tina Fey herself, the force behind the hilarious film. And it is still every bit her vision, only introduced to a brand new medium. As a musical, the "Mean Girls" story of high school cliques and back stabbing plays out in a fresh way.
The show is packed with catchy tunes and much of the same quality humor as the film. Some previous musicals that sprang from traditional films lost something in the translation. We don't think the same can be said for "Mean Girls." It is different than the movie, obviously. But Tina Fey's influence in both is a common and unifying factor. And even though it is a musical, you can feel the connection. Even if you have never seen the movie, though, you will easily enjoy this production.
As a Vox review noted, the play shines brightest when it diverges from the film. "The characters are more thoroughly thought out, and their arcs are better developed," the reviewer wrote.
Based on a 1995 novel of the same name, "Wicked" tells the imagined prequel to "The Wizard of Oz." But where some origin stories are hopelessly derivative and trite, none of that is true here. Instead, the story is told from a completely new perspective: the Wicked Witch herself. Novelist Winnie Holzman worked numerous social topics into her book. They translate seamlessly into the stage presentation, which deals with many weighty issues.
Among the story's brushes with culture is a look at our beauty standards. It also addresses controversial issues of morality. It even touches on political and ideological debates. And it all plays out through incredibly catchy numbers composed by Stephen Schwartz. For more than a decade, this show has consistently shown up on lists of the best shows on Broadway. That tradition continues
Get ready to have your expectations shattered.
If you haven't been to a Broadway play, or it's been years since your last visit, prepare yourself. This is a truly breathtaking experience. The emotion of the performers, precision of composers and expert direction, this is the epitome of professionalism. Almost all live performers strive to achieve this level of performance. And you can access this world class entertainment on your next trip to the Empire State.
We hope you found our picks helpful. If so, share our list with the travelers in your life. And let us know what your favorite play is in the comments section below.
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